Energy Department thinking green when tackling federal property improvements

Federal real property is getting greener, one lighting fixture, window treatment and HVAC system at a time.

The Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) recently awarded 21 indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contracts to energy service companies (ESCOs) to help the government increase energy savings and lower operating costs, reports Federal News Radio.

“The core scope of work that these contracts cover are energy efficiency improvements, the types of things that we can do in these contracts are quite wide and varied,” said Timothy Unruh, deputy assistant secretary of renewable power within the department’s energy efficiency office. “They can include efficiency improvements that may be a boiler plant improvement, a chiller plant improvement. It can include equipment to the air-moving equipment within the building, it can have changes in lighting, the building’s electronic control system can also be updated. The building envelope: windows, doors, installations and so forth, can also be included in these contacts.”

The contracts also include renewable energy sources for combined heat and power, such as solar panel installations, or wind-farm installations.

Unruh’s office has managed these contracts and companies since 1992. The ESCOs provide their own money to improve the buildings, and the savings that accrue at that building are paid back to the company. The contracts on average last about 17 years and range between $15 million and $17 million.

Unruh said the General Services Administration is a regular partner with FEMP, and his office has done quite a bit to help improve the overall stock of federal buildings. While GSA gets the final say on what they do with their buildings, Energy offers resources to the agency to help with their decisions.

“The reality is there is a great need for improvements across the federal buildings,” Unruh said. “There’s $135 billion of needed building repairs, and about $7.7 billion in deferred building equipment maintenance, so there’s a lot to do and there’s really not the ability for Congress to appropriate all the money necessary. That’s where these public-private partnerships of an energy saving performance contract provide such a great benefit to the federal government.”

That’s not to say the program isn’t without its challenges. The contracts are complex, Unruh said, or at least more complicated than buying pencils or paper. There’s specific language and statutes, and there’s a unique process on selecting a contractor.

“Remember most of the buildings are not in Washington, D.C., they’re all over the country,” Unruh said. “A contracting officer may be located in a specific facility and they may have really only one or two opportunities to do one of these types of contracts over the career of that contracting officer. So most contracting officers maybe have done only one or two of these — if they’ve done any at all.”

There are also a number of different stakeholders involved, like the person in charge of the building’s mission, agency employees, and those who operate and maintain the building.

Getting to a consensus can even be slowed down if there’s even one dissenting voice, Unruh said.

But Unruh said neither agencies nor contractors should be discouraged, and in fact, FEMP has a “whole array of resources” to help with the process.

Unruh said there’s also an array of international laboratory experts across the country to help with understanding the plans.

“They can evaluate the savings calculations to ensure we have the proper saving calculations there,” Unruh said. “They can look at the scope of work. We have a legal team that helps us look at the legalities of the contract proposed, and we also have a team of procurement specialists, that are former procurement officers who can come in alongside a contracting officer who has not done this before and help them understand the process and actually know the procedures they must go through in order to file the paperwork and do the proper reviews.”

The result, Unruh said for example, can be something like the New Carrollton Federal Building in Silver Spring, Md., which achieved a 60 percent energy reduction and a 56 percent water reduction thanks to a ground source heat pump, which transfers heat to or from the ground.

“I think that energy savings performance contracts offer all types of government, from federal all the way down to local government, a great opportunity to improve their buildings, make them better places to work, live and exist, and save the taxpayers money in the long run,” Unruh said. “So I think that the great opportunities here is these can really provide improvement of a significant part of our country’s infrastructure, building and operations.”


Topics: Architectural Firms, Associations / Organizations, Building Owners and Managers, Construction Firms, Consulting - Green & Sustainable Strategies and Solutions, Government Buildings - Federal / State / Local, Great Commercial Buildings, Sustainable Communities, Urban Planning and Design

Companies: U.S. Department of Energy

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